Decisive data from Homerton LTN

This article was published in 2022, in Magazine 154.

Homerton Low Traffic Neighbourhood is opposed by a damning 64% of survey respondents but it is being made permanent. What is going on here? Alan Ackroyd continued his exploration of London LTNs by taking a closer look at the scheme and its engagement survey.

Hackney Council introduced the Homerton LTN for a trial period in June 2020. On 3 December 2021, the council published the results of their consultation exercise and announced that the scheme would be retained.Infographic about the Hackney consultation

Why did it make this decision? There are two factors to take into account in understanding what is happening here. The first is in the way the scheme was set up, the second in the council’s response to the survey.

The scheme was set up with clear measurable intentions set out from the beginning:

  • create cleaner, quieter streets
  • support people to walk, shop and cycle
  • rebuild a greener Hackney after the pandemic*

The metrics to gauge success in achieving these goals were clear and enabled to the council to rate the success of the measures they were taking:

  • traffic was down by 35% inside the LTN and by 5% on boundary roads
  • air quality has improved at eight of nine monitored locations in the area
  • average bus speeds in the area have improved: from 6.9mph in 2019 to 7.2mph in 2021*

*Direct quotations from Hackney Council documents.

Hackney Council was able to show that its LTNs were doing what they set out to do, therefore they stayed.

The council has published detailed statistics on the first two of the above points in the document explaining its decision on the Homerton LTN. A separate study on bus performance looked at average speeds and excess waiting times (i.e. how far behind schedule buses are running). The significant improvements in all these metrics are backed up with detailed figures. This shows the importance of a clear understanding of why traffic management schemes are being introduced and making sure unimpeachable measurements against these goals are in place. Hackney Council was able to show that its LTNs were doing what they set out to do, therefore they stayed.

The second interesting aspect of the decision to keep the scheme is the council’s handling of the survey responses. A detailed analysis of the survey results (45 pages) was published and opposition to the LTN was plain to see!

Amongst other things, the analysis noted:

  • There were 1,694 responses to the survey but 16% of these were thought to be attempts to rig the results by responding up to six times from the same email address. These 269 responses were almost all in strong opposition to the LTN.
  • 70% of the people in Hackney are non-car owners but 62% of the survey respondents from within the borough were car owners.
  • Of the borough-resident respondents, 61% were against the scheme with 72% of non-residents against.
  • Those commuting by motor vehicle were most strongly opposed to the scheme at 97%.

The main aspects of the LTN disliked were:

  • Increased traffic: 80%
  • Increased air pollution: 68%

It is notable that the council was able to provide hard statistical evidence that traffic around and within the LTN had, in fact, decreased and air quality improved, making these objections questionable, if not groundless.

Data on increased cycling and walking journeys were one of the reasons why successful active trials in Cambridge such as Luard Road (above) were eventually approved to be made permanent. However, there is still much our local authorities could learn from other places in terms of improving data collection and community engagement on LTN projects.

The last question of the survey invited general comments and any suggestions for improvement. It was noted that most comments mentioned increased pollution, increased congestion, and inconvenience. Also raised were two particular safety issues; a number of women reported feeling less safe in quieter streets and a number of cyclists reported being the victims of more bad-tempered driving. Elderly and disabled people needing to use vehicles for medical appointments and basic mobility reported greatly increased journey times and consequent difficulties.

Several observations may be made in response to this survey analysis.

  • A perceived reduction of freedom to drive is a deeply emotive issue. Many peoples’ lives are built around the frequent and extensive use of the motor vehicle and traffic management changes may have a great impact on their lives. Whilst we might recognize that our society needs to move away from this reliance on the car, making significant personal change is difficult and this stress may be expected to be reflected in survey responses.
  • Survey respondents are a self-selecting group and those affected most (drivers) responded most prolifically. Hackney has a population (2019) of 14,658 people. 1,425 survey responses were received so just under 10% of the borough felt strongly enough to make any response. Is it safe to assume that 90% were mostly happy with the scheme?
  • Any movement outside the home for elderly and disabled people is challenging. By their nature, LTNs make some aspects of this more challenging, but also improve others by reducing traffic for those without a car. Hackney’s scheme does not seem to have made allowance for these people. The traffic filters are policed by ANPR cameras and councils will very soon have powers to grant exemptions to listed vehicles. It’s worth doing.
  • LTNs force immediate change in transport habits which have evolved over many years. Moving from isolated schemes, which may be treated as obstacles to get round, to more general management of traffic across whole cities, will change the factors that influence where and how we live. We have got used to living at a distance from employment, the amenities that we use and the centres of our social lives, linking them all with car journeys (‘Mum’s taxi’). Reducing the use of the car, which has become an essential building block of our lives, will change the way we live. If there wasn’t an adverse reaction it would be astonishing!

Sources:
The impact of LTNs on buses in Hackney
Hackney Council website announcement on Homerton LTN decision
Low Traffic Neighbourhoods – Homerton. Feedback Report. (45-page pdf file).